FutureBook Live 2018 Takes The Stage

The Bookseller’s FutureBook2018 conference began its second decade on November 30th in London’s East End with a sellout crowd of publishers, vendors and tech firms from the UK, EU and US. There were four streams — FutureBook, AudioBook, EdTech and Play — which meant attendees had to make decisions on which to choose. Thankfully, a storm of tweets (#FutureBook18) and articles from The Bookseller, Publishing Perspectives, and others will help the curious find out what happened, and will happen, at the intersection of publishing and technology.

Traditional publishers and well-known industry figures, like SourcebooksDominique Raccah and Hachette’s David Shelley, along with Seth Godin via video, opened the day, but startups, EdTech companies, agents, and podcasters were also represented throughout the conference. Like last year, the emphasis was on the spoken word, though this year saw separate panels on Voice-Assistant Technology (think Alexa and her ilk), podcasts, and audiobooks. Many panelists seemed to agree that the three platforms would grow symbiotically with one another (see a recent Publishing Trends article on the topic.) As Tom Abba, an associate professor of art and design at the University of the West of England, said, books, audio, VR and AR should all be part of “a seamless whole, so that there are no borders – everything knows where you are and you can move between them all.” This was very much a theme of this year’s Digital Book World (DBW) as well, and certainly seems to be the direction in which much content is moving.

Emphasis was also placed on how much publishers have to innovate just to keep up. At the beginning of the day, David Shelley suggested that publishers, though harder-working than in the days of liquored lunches, can be complacent, especially about bringing new people into the industry. And at the day’s close, Dominique Raccah gave a presentation on Rethinking Book Publishing 2018, about changing publishers’ culture overall. The strategy, she said, should move from efficiency to innovation, with the user experience becoming “mission critical.” The workforce’s most important talents are not necessarily the highest skilled but those who are lifelong learners. A panel on the Workplace in 2025 addressed the issue of a publishing workforce that is predominantly white and university-educated – and discussed how holding high-priced conferences also exclude younger and less well-compensated workers. Ironically, given this pointed remark, the audience at some of the talks, like the one on podcasts, was decidedly younger and more diverse than one typically sees at US publishing conferences.

Finally, there was a rallying cry around the importance of stories and storytellers, and the panel moderated by Tom Abba was indeed called “New Platforms, New Ways of Storytelling.” One panelist was Meir Biton, whose MyStoryBall won the award in the PitchEd competition. The smart toy engages children in screen-free storytelling – though it it’s hardly lacking in tech components. Still, it suggests that a concern about how much screen time is healthy is one more reason for audio’s rise.

The emphasis on stories in an increasingly tech world is being seen in many venues in the US  and Europe. Another conference, Confluence, will take place in February at Academy London and will focus specifically on technology and stories. Sam Coniff Allende, who spoke on the Workplace in 2025 panel, will be talking there as well.

In the end, the FutureBook Person of the Year, Little, Brown’s Sharmaine Lovegrove, put it best when she summed up the critical importance of stories and their audiences for publishers. As she said, “I want an inclusive future that centers around brilliant stories and writers and inspires readers. Let’s make books for everyone everywhere.”

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